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THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE: PT. 3








PLANET OF THE APES

RISE OF THE PHENOMENON -
BIRTH, EVOLUTION AND  
REINCARNATION


by CEJ




     At the beginning of 2011's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES poachers violently invade the jungle interior, and the deafening squall of the region’s simian inhabitants - a combination of fear, anger and defiance, erupts into the atmosphere.  A similar roar of fear and anger greeted 20th Century Fox when the studio announced it was yet again rebooting (there’s that word again) one of it’s most beloved and lucrative of franchises, PLANET OF THE APES, for one more go-around.



    
Tim Burton’s 2001 “re-imagining” was a worldwide financial success, and in all fairness did boast spectacular production and costume design, cinematography and a handful of decent performances along with impressive makeup prosthetics by Rick Baker.  But die-hard fans, raised on the 1968 original’s heady combination of Conan Doyle-style “Lost World” adventure and new era socio-political statement, found the Burton re-do sorely lacking an intellectual and emotional core to make it truly memorable.


 
      That buried Statue of Liberty at the climax of the original was one of the most iconic images in cinema history, and it cast a very long shadow which every science fiction film since would find itself scrambling to match; among them
the original’s own sequels (four of them) and two television series - one live action and one animated. 


     From a purely economic standpoint (and yes, for better or worse, film franchises both now and in the past - don't kid yourself, aren't  just "show" but are also big "business") the 1968 original also became one of the first “cross-marketing” juggernauts, giving birth to a line of toys, models and comic & coloring books as well as limited edition collectibles long before that sort of thing was the industry norm.  Sorry STAR WARS, you didn't invent the concept. 




     In every which way the original classic was a tough act to follow.  And fans and critics who felt burned by the Burton version wouldn't be nearly as optimistic (or forgiving) as they were ten years prior





DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: Final Release Trailer (2014)





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INCEPTION:  PLANET OF THE APES (1968)


     While many (named and unnamed) helped launch the phenomenon which became PLANET OF THE APES, four men are directly responsible for it's cinematic birth: novelist PIERRE BOULLE,  producer ARTHUR P. JACOBS, screen and television playwright ROD SERLING, and legendary actor CHARLTON HESTON.


PLANET OF THE APES: "Main Title" - Jerry Goldsmith

  
Pierre Boulle  

     
     Born in Avignon, France in 1912, PIERRE-FRANCOIS-MARIE-LOUIS BOULLE obtained an engineering degree
from the École Supérieure d'Électri
cité (Supélec) which he would use working on various British rubber plantations in Malaya until the outbreak of WW2.  After enlisting in the French Army in Indochina he would prove an effective secret agent until being captured by Vichy France loyalists on the Mekong River in 1943, and placed into a forced labor camp.  He’d relate his war experiences firsthand in MY OWN RIVER KWAI, but it was the publication of his “fiction based on fact” novel LE PONT DE LA RIVIERE KWAI (THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI - 1952) which created a worldwide sensation. 



     Made into an Oscar winning film by David Lean in 1957, Boulle would receive the film’s Academy Award for Best Screenplay even though he didn’t write it.  Credited with the script because actual scenarists MICHAEL WILSON and CARL FOREMAN were at the time blacklisted for supposed Communist sympathies, Boulle spoke no English and gave what is believed to be the shortest acceptance speech in Oscar history, “Merci”.   A few moderately successful novels followed until the publication of 1963’s LA PLANETE DE SINGES (tr. in 1964 as MONKEY PLANET, then PLANET OF THE APES) once again propelled him to the literary forefront.





      APES the novel is a masterful yarn told in classic Edgar Rice Burroughs’ style “bookend” format.  A couple vacationing in space come across the futuristic version of a “message in a bottle” - within it the story of Ulysse Mérou, an astronaut from 20th century earth who journeyed with two companions 350 years towards the star Betelgeuse, it’s orbiting planets believed by them to be capable of sustaining human life. 


     Because of “time dilation” the trip to them is merely two years.  And once landed on one of the planets (which they name “Soror”) they encounter a band of primitive humans who behave more like animalistic chimpanzees; among them the beautiful Nova, to whom Ulysse finds himself attracted.  Such thoughts are put on hold however when the humans are rounded up by a hunting party of uniformed apes sporting 20th century earth-like weaponry, vehicles and other technology.




     





     Herded to the center of the ape capital city, Ulysse is separated from his companions and eventually taken into the care of kindly scientist Zira, who saves him from experimentation.  In time Ulysse addresses the ape president in a Congress-like setting, and afterward is granted the right to wear clothes, hobnob with the citizenry and explore his new home peaceably.  Eventually Ulysse reconnects and falls in love with Nova.  And when he mates with her the ape philosophical leader Dr. Zaius concludes Ulysse isn't special, but as primitively driven by his physical passions as the rest of human kind, and therefore just as dangerous.  He is ordered to be put down.



     Ulysse, Nova ... and their new child ... escape, manage to find Ulysse’s original spacecraft, and they journey back to what they believe to be 20th century earth.  Upon landing outside of Paris they discover their earth is now the PLANET OF THE APES, and the world they were on was just a future version of it.  Ulysse launches a journal of his adventure into space for someone to find.  And as the story ends, the vacationing “bookend” couple are revealed to be apes,  they scoffing at the manuscript and the notion of a human being able to read, write and the most far fetched idea of all - pilot a spacecraft.


 
  Artist conception of scene from the novel: Ulysse testifies before the Ape Congress
 

  Arthur P. Jacobs


     ARTHUR P. JACOBS was born in 1922, graduated from the University of Southern California, then began his film career as a publicist with MGM and Warner Bros. before starting his own PR firm - where he'd in time represent such names as Marilyn Monroe, Jimmie Stewart and Gregory Peck.  Monroe helped Jacobs make the leap to producer by agreeing to top line his star-studded extravaganza WHAT A WAY TO GO (1964), a fanciful comedy wherein Louisa May Foster (Monroe) comes to believe she’s under a magical curse. 

    
     Continually marrying poor men out of love, they all end up striking it rich, then they die, leaving Louisa with an ever increasing fortune.  Monroe’s participation and Jacobs’ P.R. saavy attracted Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin and others to the project.  And 20th Century Fox greenlit it.



    
      Before shooting commenced however, Monroe died on August 5, 1962.  The film was eventually made with Shirley MacLaine as Louisa, and it went on to become one of the studio’s biggest money makers of 1964.  Around this same time Jacobs read and become enraptured with LA PLANETE DE SINGES

     Far removed from typical science fiction of the 1950s (usually drive-in style monster fests or thinly veiled Cold War paranoia sagas) SINGES had an intelligent (and even satirical) layer unlike anything the producer had come across prior.  He optioned it, hired artists to create a series of detailed concept illustrations, then approached the studios. 



     Remembering silly “apes on the rampage” B-flicks along the lines of KONGA (1961) and comedies like Abbott and Costello’s AFRICA SCREAMS (1949), Jacobs had a tough time convincing them of the intelligence of his proposal.  Even Boulle was doubtful his novel could be effectively translated to film.  Jacobs however was undaunted and, seeking to give his project the serious "cred" he felt it deserved, brought in two pieces of heavy artillery - Rod Serling and Charlton Heston.




 
Rod Serling




     
Serling was the wunderkind who had taken live television by storm with socially conscious, award winning 90 minute teleplays like PATTERNS, THE COMEDIAN and REQUIEUM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, then after years battling network censors, had left to parlay his social message into the hugely successful TWILIGHT ZONE television series.  After the end of the ZONE’s run he’d become a feature screenwriter with brainy thrillers such as John Frankenheimer’s U.S. military coup drama SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964) and fanciful adventures like the Frank Sinatra ocean liner sea heist caper ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966) - both narrative facets necessary in adapting Boulle’s novel the way in which Jacobs envisioned.
 

 
Artist conception from scene in the novel:  Apes in helicopters round up humans during the Hunt.  

Concept Art11.jpg



Charlton Heston  

     Securing Charton Heston was perhaps Jacobs biggest coup as the legendary actor's presence would serve a dual purpose before and during filming.  The “before” was based on the fact that Jacobs knew (from his publicist days) the attachment of a major star to a project was the best way to get a studio’s serious attention.  And as the Oscar winning lead of classics like BEN-HUR , THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY there were few brighter stars in the Hollywood firmament.  The “during” filming aspect would also capitalize on Heston’s middle-America appeal. 



     As PLANET OF THE APES would be, among other things, a veiled indictment of racism, Heston’s character of astronaut Taylor - essentially an escaped slave making a dash for the science fiction equivalent of the underground railroad, would cause the audience point of identification to shift.  Bringing popular baggage of former films with him, Heston would automatically have the audience on his side.  Then when he becomes the persecuted minority, the audience could “step into those shoes” for the first time.  It was a bold move which Jacobs was able to pull off … but only after one more thing. 



     Fox studio head RICHARD D. ZANUCK, recently appointed by his father and studio co-founder Darryl Zanuck, asked for a test to make sure the ape makeup applications wouldn’t prove unintentionally funny to audiences.  Fox makeup master Ben Nye created prototype appliances for a screen test featuring Heston as astronaut (here named) “Thomas” accompanied by EDWARD G. ROBINSON as Dr. Zaius, and (then) studio contract player JAMES BROLIN as Dr. Cornelius.
 

makeup test footage (1966)



     The screen test was a success, and PLANET OF THE APES received a "go" from the studio. 



pg. 1,2,3,4,5

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